Installing Window Trim

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There came a day where there was absolutely nothing we could think of to do on the house. No, not because we were finished (we wish), but because everything was waiting on something else to be done before we could continue. For example, we couldn’t finish paneling the ceiling because we were waiting on our wood-stove to arrive so we would know where the chimney goes. We also couldn’t do any more on the bathroom because we needed to order stainless steel sheet metal.

 

So, we decided to get a head start on trim.

 

Why not, right?

 

We decided on 2 3/4″ wide by 3/4″ thick boards for our windows. Remember, we’re making this all by hand, so we have no idea what industry standards are for these things. After some research, we found we were, luckily, in the ballpark. We decided on using poplar wood for a few reasons. For one, poplar is a lighter wood and is easier to work with compared to other hardwoods. It’s also much cheaper! We definitely appreciate that. And next, my favorite reason, is that we got to salvage some poplar wood that means something to me.

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I (Sierra) was one of those kids who was outside all the time, playing tag, building forts, having water wars (my house was known for awesome squirt gun water fights) and having other random outdoor adventures. There was a plot of land in my neighborhood that nothing was built on that my friends and I liked to explore. In the center of it was a giant poplar tree (you see where this is going). It was simply gorgeous. You’d walk by the lot and your eye would immediately be drawn to it. A lot of wildlife lived there too, and apparently once when I was out of town it was struck by lightning (shook the ground, the neighbors said). Anyway, when I became an adult (though I’m still trying to figure out what that means), a builder bought the lot and cut down the tree. He decided to mill the wood himself and use it for the interior trim of his own new house. And let me tell you it is beautiful! Anyway, I told him about my tiny house project and he kindly offered to give us some of his leftover wood from that tree. So for me, having it in the house is kind of like having part of my childhood home with me wherever I go.

 

Cue “D’awww…” in the audience.

 

Okay, the hokey moment is over. Back to the originally scheduled programming.

 

So we milled the wood down and created the trim boards. Next we wanted to sand them and then apply a color. A few years ago we visited a tiny house where the builder gave us the idea to apply paint and then wipe it off in order to still show the grain pattern and natural beauty of the wood. So we decided to do that with our green trim paint.

 

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And here is the result! We like it. It will match the green accents we plan to have throughout the house. We’re waiting to add trim in the bathroom and kitchen because we’ll need to work around the counter, back-splash, and bathroom sink, but so far so good! It’s coming together!

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Tiny House Electrical – You Conduit!

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The bathroom wall with its electrical and plumbing mostly done.

Electrical was a bit more complicated than plumbing. For one, we had to determine ALL the fixtures we’d be using, where exactly they would be going, how much power they would draw, etc. Lighting the great room turned out to be the most difficult. Like we’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we are looking for low impact, and off-grid ready appliances, so we shopped around for LED lights. Drew’s parents had a large collection of left-over light fixtures from their kitchen and bath business that we were free to choose from. These came in handy on several occasions.

We thought about having recessed can lights like traditional homes, but decided against it once we realized that the recessed part of the light almost always required a 6” deep ceiling stud, which we simply did not have room for in our 2×4 roof. We found a large box of task lights in Drew’s parents’ shop that we initially thought would be perfect for the great room. Drew rigged up a few lights and hung them up on the ceiling. For 12v lights, they lit the room up like they were 60 watts bulbs! They looked great in the space, but they seemed to heat up rather quickly, which we thought was odd for LED lights until we realized they were xenon lights. Oh well…

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Our attempt with can lights.

Then we saw a design online where a tiny home used LED strips along the tops of the walls on either side of the great room. It lit the room up with the beautiful looking glow of reflected indirect light. Perfect! We definitely want to use LED because it uses less energy and produces less heat.

We chose a  very small ceiling fan (that hopefully won’t hit our walls when it spins), two wall sconces for the dormer walls, one sconce for over the half circle window, a set of decorative track lights for the nook, two kitchen lights, and a sconce for the bathroom. Plus, we bought an outdoor light for the front door as well. We lucked out with the track lights because a builder Drew ran into had some extra lighting he didn’t need, so he gave it to us. (Thanks again!)

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Our new porch light! Note, the white paint line on the half circle window above is from when Sierra attempted to paint the shakes surrounding the window, and the bees living in the eaves decided that wasn’t the best idea.

We decided to run our house on 120 volts AC because this was the most common, most easily managed type of electrical setup we could create for ourselves. Simply put, more, better, and cheaper appliances are available when you use a traditional electrical load. This means you have more choices for energy saving appliances once you start looking for them. Since we had a tight space for our kitchen, we decided to splurge on an under-counter refrigerator that was much larger than your usual dorm fridge.

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Electric setup for the nook. The wire will be hidden by a trim piece we’ll be installing later.

It should be mentioned that there are some great and ingenious food cooling solutions for totally off-the grid homes. We’ve seen propane powered fridges, flexible power fridges that can take 110v AC and 12v DC. There was even a time we were convinced we were going to convert an old chest freezer into a super-efficient refrigerator that used less than $12 worth of power in an entire year. (Thank you Internet.) However, in the end, we decided we could afford a larger, foodie-friendly fridge at the cost of an extra solar battery or two once we made the switch.

Speaking of solar, we are looking into using a portable all-in-one solar station called the SolMan. It is a box that contains all of the batteries, solar panels, and related equipment needed to charge a few computers and run a few small appliances off the grid. It can be upgraded with more battery storage or solar panels and all you need to hook your house up to it is an extension cord! There is absolutely no need to install those puppies on your roof and clench your stomach (and your wallet) every time you drive your house under an exceptionally low-looking overpass.

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Lightswitch for the nook light. Since we have so many boxes we took to labeling the wires for clarity.

Because we were mentally exhausted from all the plumbing research, and we were both busy with jobs and life, we decided to play it safe and hire an electrician for this part. Because Drew’s parents work in the construction business, they knew a contractor that could help. And that’s how we met Tom.

Actually, that’s a bit misleading. I (Sierra) have never actually met Tom. For all I know, Tom doesn’t exist and never has existed. Due to busy work scheduling on my end, Drew is the only one who ever actually interacted with him. Ever. Drew also tends have uncanny knack for understanding technical stuff, so as far as I know Drew made Tom up and did all the electrical himself. It’s become a running joke with us.

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Drew’s electrical design

So Drew met with Tom and showed him a diagram he’d mapped out of our electrical system. Tom then gave us some wire to get started (thanks Tom!) and taught Drew how to install it.

Then he left Drew and I to install our electrical boxes and the wires leading to them. It was actually pretty easy. It also made everything overall easier for us since we knew the plan backwards and forwards and we didn’t have to explain our incredibly complicated and amateur electrical plan to a professional who had other things to worry about.

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The red and black wires are for the LED strip lighting. The white wire leads to the loft. The silver metal pieces are the wire guards.

Then we (meaning Drew) called up Tom and met with him to look over our work. From there, Tom installed our electrical box and “did all the complicated stuff” of building a circuit box, installing all of the breakers, wiring the supply line to the box and explaining 3-way switches to Drew.  Then Drew and I finished up the rough wiring by installing some junction boxes. We also went through the house and installed these metal wiring plates that get installed directly over a wire or a pipe so it will be impossible for us to drill into a live wire. Ouch!

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We set it up so we can turn on/off the loft lights from downstairs, as well as from upstairs, for convenience.

And that was it! Working with Tom (I guess indirectly on my part, haha) was fantastic! It was nice for something to go smoothly for once. Honestly, this was way easier than either of us had expected for having hired a professional. We were thinking we would have to explain the whole project to Tom and then watch over his shoulder to make sure he was installing it the way we needed it. Nope! No such troubles. Tom, just as calm as you please, explained how to wire an outlet, how to wire a switch, and how to put together an electrical system in the simplest way he could, and then left us to install our plan the way we wanted. It was a great arrangement for everyone.

Now we’re working on the walls. We’ll dedicate a whole post to that coming up. Stay tuned..

Plumb Tuckered Out: Tiny House Plumbing

Long time no write. Things have certainly been busy! Just, not so much house-wise.. Though I will say we’re currently we’re working on the walls! I’ll get to that in another post, but for now let’s focus on tiny house plumbing.

Plumbing. Where on earth to start? First, we had to determine the piping layout/design. We finalized where we wanted our tub to be (whatever we end up using) and chose the definitive spots for our bathroom and kitchen sinks.

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We’re not using this cabinetry, but this is the basic layout of the back of our house. The dark cabinet on the left front is the divide between the bathroom and kitchen walkway. It also represents the size of the bookshelf we plan to install on that bathroom wall for food storage. On the right you can see the L-shape of the kitchen. The metal containers in the back right corner are for water storage and filtration.

We also determined what sort of water pumping/filtration system we would be using. Being that we are considering going off-grid sometime in the future, we were looking for a system that minimizes our electrical usage, and preferably does not require in-line water pressure. We found a few gravity powered filtration systems that seemed to fit the bill. We decided to go with Berkey water filters. Berkey makes a kind of water filter that has been shown to be so effective it can remove protozoa, trace minerals, bacteria, and even viruses in the water. Being that viruses are so incredibly small, this is a very impressive feat for a filter that only requires gravity to operate. We’ve also read that a lot of tiny housers have used Berkeys for its convenience and safety, which helped back up our decision.

Our plan is to rig up a stainless steel tank with about 4-6 of these filters (since the number of filters increases the amount of available water). This tank will drip into a large 40 gallon fresh water holding tank that we’re going to store in the dead space in the corner of our kitchen. Most people don’t realize that this is prime real estate in galley-style kitchens! Many big homes have a lazy Susan (or a corner pantry), but since we don’t need one, we can use this space to store our water filtration.

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Water will enter the house from an input near those containers. It will travel to a pump under the sink that will connect to the top filtration basin. The gravity-fed filtration system will fill the bottom barrel with fresh, clean water, and then be fed to the rest of the house from there.

After all that was figured out (which took a boatload of research), we then had to determine what materials we wanted to use for our piping. We knew we were against using CPVC because of the chlorination process and the use of pthalates and heavy metals needed to produce the pipe. We also determined copper wasn’t that great either because it could leach copper into the water supply – and while this is good for anti-bacterial applications, our water would already be pure because of our pre-filter. High copper has also been connected to Alzheimer’s and other related cognitive conditions, so we figured we wouldn’t take our chances. Besides the possible health concerns, a few studies have found that copper pipes have been failing far sooner than previously expected because of premature pin-hole leaks.

We would have loved to use stainless steel, but not only could we not find any, what little we did find (for like dairy production and such) was way too expensive and hilariously difficult to work with.

So we turned to PEX.

(Warning: mildly intensive chemistry discussion for the next few paragraphs. If you’re into that kind of stuff, stick around, if not, scroll down to the picture of the PEX pipe.)

For those of you who don’t know, PEX is a fairly new plastic piping product. The fact that it was plastic made us discount it almost straight away at first, but the more we looked around, the more we learned about it.

We initially hesitated on PEX because we’ve read a great deal of research about plastic leaching harmful chemicals into drinking water. This is to be expected with almost any product, plastic or metal. However, there is no 100% conclusive way to determine what will end up in your drinking water through your pipes, or even where it came from in the first place.

PEX, however, is a little different than other plastic pipe products. Unlike PVC, which is one of the most toxic plastics out there, PEX is made from LDPE, which is #2 plastic. Several types of food-service containers are made out of this sample plastic, and as far as plastic goes, this type tends to be pretty safe. However, even if LDPE is a fairly inert plastic on its own; the toxicity of a given plastic has less to do with what type of plastic you’re using and everything to do with the additives.

PVC, for example, is rather brittle or soft and rubbery depending on what it is used in. In order for PVC to have any of those properties, additives need to be mixed into the plastic and chemically bonded with the plastic in order to reinforce it and prepare it for sale as a certain product. These PVC additives can very often be hormone-disrupting chemicals that can throw off human biochemistry, or the biochemistry of chemical-sensitive animals. Sometimes these additives can even be heavy metals like lead.  In the case of PVC, the additives are typically loosely bonded to the plastic, which means they can fall out of the pipe into drinking water.

PEX stands for “cross-linked polyethylene”, which means “plastic that has been chemically bonded to itself”. You don’t need to know how this process works, but suffice it to say, this plastic is produced by making plastic arrange itself into a shape like a roll of chain linked fence. This can be done by either adding chemicals to the raw plastic, or, even better, by irradiating it with a high frequency light. This final type of PEX is called PEX-C, and has recently replaced copper and PVC piping in terms of availability, ease of use, and, best of all, cleanliness!

We found a recent study headed by Dr. Andrew Whelton of Perdue university that tested several different types of PEX pipes and seemed to demonstrate that PEX-C pipes were more resistant to abrasive chemicals used in water treatment, leached fewer chemicals and less harmful compounds than other types of PEX pipes, and proved to be more chemically inert overall. Not only were there fewer chemicals used in its production, but fewer of them made it into the drinking water! This sounded perfect to us after several weeks of botched research.

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Hark, PEX plumbing! These are the outputs in the bathroom under the sink. (The cardboard thing above it is a window. To the left of that is the bathroom fan.)

Now we had the hard part done. It was time to install everything! We drilled 3/4” inch holes in all of the studs where we wanted the pipe to run. Another great feature of PEX is that it feels like playing with LEGOs. It can be cut with a simple utility knife, and it can be bent around corners without fittings. We bought a few 90 degree bend moulds that allowed us to bend the pipe and keep it held at that angle whenever we needed the pipe to stick out of the wall or curve around a corner.

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Still in the bathroom – the pipes on the right head up to the shower. Not surprisingly, red is for hot water, blue for cold. Keeps things simple.

The fittings for PEX are also hilariously toy-like. Shark Bite makes a fitting that you literally just push onto the pipe for a permanent fit. Kinda like tinker toys. However, we went with crimp fittings from Viega because they are made with an even lower lead content than the low-lead fittings sold off the shelves these days. Crimp fittings are only slightly more complicated and require a vice grip to install, but they go on very quickly and without much of a fuss. We were able to pick them up locally from a Ferguson plumbing supply store.

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Our special PEX plumbing fitting tool. we clamped it together with a vice grip.
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This tool had a nifty way of checking to make sure the attachment was tight. If it around the ring, like this one did here, then it was secure.

Wherever we had an appliance, we installed a support plate that installed between the studs and provided a hole that the protruding pipe could rest on for support. This makes it so the water pressure doesn’t vibrate the pipe so much that it gets damaged. We also added foam insulation around our hot water lines.

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Not that you can tell, but there’s a camouflaged red pipe in there somewhere.
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The shower handle at the top and the tub faucet/handles below. The random tubes everywhere are actually starting to look like they’re there on purpose!

And now that’s mostly done! We left a pair of pipes hanging out of the wall for the hot water heater that we will attach once the wall where the heater goes is installed. All that’s left now is the drainage system, which we can install once we know the dimensions of our tub

Tiny House Flooring – Part III, Stain and Varnish

A few months ago we found an ad on Craigslist from a woman selling a two-burner marine stove for a great price. Already there was a scheduling challenge – she lived further away, but could pass it off to her friend’s son who went to a college closer to us (still about 4 hours away) and we’d work around his class schedule to pick it up. So we drove there, searched the school’s giant library for some random stranger who goes by “Levi,” not having any idea what he looked like. A few hours later, we finally found him and bought our new stove.

Which has actually come in really handy in our build.

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The nice thing about an Origo marine alcohol-burning stove is that it’s portable. It runs on denatured alcohol and doesn’t need any sort of electrical or gas hookup. We’ve tried it out a few times and it works great!

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Each of the stainless steel canisters are filled with wool, which soaks up alcohol and allows it to slowly evaporate. The stove has a few knobs that allow for the gas to come out at different rates. All you have to do is light it with a match.

So how does this relate to our floor? What’d we do, cook it? Well not exactly, but we did make our floor stain using it.

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. As you know, we first made our own flooring and then installed it ourselves. Our next step was to stain and seal it. So Drew and I spent a long time researching stains. We wanted something that was non-toxic and durable. We searched all our favorite green companies, but they all had VOCs and other contaminants. We thought linseed oil might work, but then we realized our water based varnish wouldn’t properly adhere to it, so we scraped that idea.  So we decided to make it ourselves, like we’re doing all too often these days. Why not, right?

So we researched DIY solutions to making our own stain. We wanted a darker floor, so we ordered some ground walnut hulls. We bought a second-hand cooking pot, some remnant muslin fabric, tied it closed, and used our fancy new stovetop to boil it for hours.

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…And hours, and hours.

In the traditional method of making a walnut stain, a thicker stain is often preferable over a thinner, lighter stain. As time passed, we would test it on spare pieces of birch boards to see what the finished stain would look like. We were hoping for a more reddish-brown color, but it ended up being a brownish-gray. We wanted something to match our door – what could be do?

Then Drew had a brilliant, yet crazy idea. How about we add some of our leftover door paint to the mixture and see what happens? It is red and water-based, after all…

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This could have ended really badly, but it didn’t!

We tried it out in a smaller mixture of our stain with the paint to figure out a good ratio. It almost looked purple, but when we tried it on a sample of wood it looked pretty good!

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The large section of reddish stain was from our test. The darker version below was without the paint added in.

We decided to go slightly less red, so we mixed it together in a smaller proportion within our main pot, and decided to apply it to the floor.

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The stain color would go on really light brown, but then would dry more reddish. We still aren’t sure why that is.
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The first coat of stain as it finishes drying.

We applied our first coat with a paint roller. Once it was dry we decided to go ahead and apply a second coat to make it darker.

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Applying the second coat. We would wipe off the excess so it didn’t create darker stains where we didn’t want them.
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See how differently the stain dried after it was coated?

And here is the finished product!

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Unfortunately the stain covered a lot of those nice deeper hues in the birch, but we think they may still be subtly highlighted after applying the varnish.
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The final coat of stain after it dried.

After it dried, we went ahead and applied a wood varnish to the floor to protect it for durability. Luckily we found one that was zero VOC and had a safer MSDS report.

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Applying the first coat.
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After one or two coats.

We applied a coat every two hours for three coats in total. We took a full day to finish applying all the coats.

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The final layer!
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It goes well with our door…

After that, we covered the floor in ram board and cardboard to protect it while we work on plumbing. We even laid out some of our cabinetry to see how it would fit.

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This is a very crude layout of how our kitchen will look. The large barrels in the back corner will be our water filtration system. The bathroom will start about where the green tape line is on the left. The piece of cardboard sitting on top of the cabinet represents our counter. Like I said, very crude layout indeed.

Next we FINALLY get to start on plumbing!

Tiny House Flooring – Part II, Installation

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We recently bought and made all of our own flooring by hand. (Read part one here.) Next came the installation!

The first step was to lay down a water barrier so that any water that made it through the floor would be stopped from hitting our subfloor. (We did NOT want to deal with a soggy subfloor ever again.) We nailed it into place using roofing nails with flat tops. We overlapped the tar paper around 3″ on the long edges. The annoying part was that we were able to use up our last roll of tar paper left over from the roofing, but ended up being short about 18 feet, so we had to buy an entire new roll of tar paper just for that one bit. …So if you’re interested in buying only a partial roll of tar paper, do let us know.

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After this we measured 3/4″ from the wall to allow for expansion and for molding and the wall boards. And made a chalk line. From there we face-nailed the floor to the subfloor along that line.

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When adhering the floorboards to the ground, we nail through the tongue of the boards so that the nail is not visible when the groove of the next board fits over it. However, on the edges of the room (against the wall, as seen here), there is no tongue to nail into and so we instead “face nail” the board, meaning we nail into the top of it. This will be hidden by our molding.

Next, we laid a row of boards and nailed them in one at a time with a manual nailer we rented. We chose a manual nailer at first because it was cheaper seemed safer to use. However, what we didn’t consider was ease-of-use. The manual nailer drives nails just like an air powered nailer, but the crucial difference is that you have to hit a manual nailer VERY hard and very squarely to get it to set a nail deep enough into the flooring. The next time we rented a nailer we used a pneumatic nailer. The rental was somewhat more expensive, but it was far easier to use and much less strenuous.

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Here he’s using the manual nailer.
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Here is the pneumatic nailer.

We continued this pattern, Drew nailing in the boards and me laying them out in an aesthetically-pleasing pattern. This is where my meticulous organization came in handy. I rested all the boards against the opposite wall of the house so I could see them, separating them by dark spots and plain. From there I was able to space out the darker spots so the floor looked more balance.

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You’ll notice that in the top right of the photo the floorboards don’t have many dark spots. This is because this area will lie under our kitchen counter.

Some things I needed to consider:

1) Where the cabinets would be. I put the boards with incongruities/general weirdness in those places. Same with the nook where they’ll be a couch hiding it, and bathroom where our giant barrel tub will be.

2) I needed the darker spots to be spread out so that I didn’t run out, so I had to pace their placement.

3) What the focal points of the house are. For example, I placed a set of two boards with a long, dark spot running from one to another along the middle of the walkway in the kitchen, and another self-contained dark spot in the bathroom near the entrance. I tried to consider where eyes would wander while sitting in the nook, and when sitting in the sleeping loft looking down at the rest of the house. What boards did I want to accentuate and what ones did I want to disguise?

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I found two boards that had dark spots that worked well together, so I placed them together.

We continued the pattern all the way across the floor. (Luckily, our house is a square.)

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Adhering more tar paper.
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Our mostly finished floor with our cardboard cutouts laid out. The top left one is our giant barrel tub. The top right one is our sink basin and the bottom right one is our cabinet. The long thin piece of wood on the bottom left marks where our sleeping loft ends, which also signifies where our bathroom and kitchen will end.

Once we got to the end, we trimmed down the last row to give us 3/4″ clearance between the wall and the flooring, and installed the final pieces. Next we sanded the whole floor with 100 grit sandpaper. Here is the result!

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The yellow lines were an experiment with linseed oil we’ll address in a future post.

Next we’ll stain the floor and then finally get to plumbing. We have the majority of our materials now. Wish us luck!

Tiny House Flooring – Part I

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First comes flooring, then comes plumbing,
Then comes electric which is pretty stunning.

Anyway, it’s been a while since our last post, so let me back up a bit and get you up to speed. Drew and I have been working on plumbing. When I say working, I mean we’ve been researching like mad trying to figure out the greenest, long-lasting materials to use. (Drew will go into more detail on this in a blog post soon.) In the process, we also discovered that we had to install our flooring first before doing plumbing so that our water tank(s) have something to sit on for installation. …Yeah. So we had to backtrack and figure out flooring.

I’ve realized that there are two very separate aspects to building the house. One is the technical throw-boards-around aspect, like framing. In framing it doesn’t matter (too much) how the structure looks, as long as it’s structurally sound. You can use weird looking boards and leave obvious nail holes and not worry too much about it. Plumbing is similar. In plumbing, it doesn’t really matter how it looks – what’s important is that it functions the way it should. It’s all hidden away in the cabinets and walls.

The other category is aesthetics. The first time we ran into this was when we installed our cedar loft beams. It was surprisingly jarring to switch modes. It made us think, ‘wow, now I need to actually consider how these things are going to look in the house’. So we bought nice-looking beams, then had to decide what placement/order they would go in. ‘Well, that beam has a nice lighter area that curves in the front, so uh, I guess that one should face the great room?’ We haven’t had too many of these tasks so far (except for maybe when we worked with the cedar siding and shakes on the exterior).

Flooring is different. While yes, it must be functional and we must consider the tech involved, I would mainly put flooring in the aesthetics category. It’s something we see everyday and influences the entire aesthetic atmosphere of our house. We’ve been debating the interior color scheme/feel for months now, and weren’t really ready to commit to a flooring scheme yet. (I was hoping to delay it at least until plumbing and electrical were finished. So much for that grandiose plan.)

So we explored our options. We found a local lumber mill and looked at their options online. Luckily there were different varieties of local wood samples laying around our shop, so we stained them with lineseed oil to see what they would look like.

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Wood samples from left to right: cherry, birch, white oak, maple, poplar, walnut

We were particularly partial to the red birch flooring; we thought it’d go well with our red door.

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Birch sample under the door. The door really brings out the red hues in the wood.

So we went to the lumber mill’s showroom to see what they had. We spoke with a very loquacious saleswoman about our different options and noticed that we really liked the look of the hickory samples they had. So we brought one back to see how it looked.

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Nice, huh? Hickory is a really beautiful wood.

We loved the design of it with the darker markings throughout, but after further research found that hickory is a much heavier wood than most. We need to consider weight because our trailer is limited to 10,000lbs. Meanwhile, Drew had been doing research on how we could make our own flooring. (It would save us a few hundred dollars.) Since we had access to Drew’s dad’s woodworking shop, we had access to all the tools needed to make our own (planer, tablesaw, etc.). So we decided to visit the lumber mill once again and buy the lumber needed to make our own flooring. (Thank you Diane!!)

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Our new birch lumber.

We selected the straightest, cleanest boards we could find and brought them back to the shop. From there we had the challenging job of planing them all to 3/4” thick by 3.5″ wide and making them straight. It wasn’t as easy as we thought it’d be.

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Here we’re passing the boards back and forth as we run them through the planer to maintain a consistent thickness.
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We also tried using a joiner for a while, but it wasn’t as uniform as the planer so we went back to what worked.

Then it was time to cut them down to size on the chop saw and cut tongue and grooves in the boards using a tool called a dado blade. A dado blade is essentially a special blade for a table saw that allows you to stack multiple blades together to increase the size of the cut on a table saw Most table saw blades leave cuts that are 1/8” thick, but with a dado, you can stack blades up to make cuts just under an inch. They’re great for mortise and tenon joints, and for making consistent tongue and groove joints. We used the dado to make cuts that were ¼ inch thick so we would only have to pass the boards trough a few times instead of a few dozen times to get our tongues and grooves.

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A rather large (and blurry) photo of me using the chop saw. I divided the boards evenly at about 3 feet long each for consistency. Our lengths ranged from about 2-4 feet. I tried not to chop up the dark patterns too much.
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Drew cutting the trimmed boards down to width on the table saw.
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Next he added the tongues and grooves to each board. This took a while.

After that step was finished, we cut grooves into the bottoms of the boards to allow for expansion. If you look on the bottom of most wood flooring, you will see these rounded grooves running lengthwise on the bottom the board. This is to take some of the bulk out of the wood so when it starts expanding (as wood does) it doesn’t make the wood buckle so much that it breaks.

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A test to see how the boards fit together. Looks good!

Then we put all the boards in the house to acclimate to the house’s temperature and humidity so they would be ready for installation.

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Next comes installation!

Our Cute Little Front Door

I must proclaim that we have the cutest, most adoorable door in all the land. Just look at it!

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Drew’s dad Sam kindly put the door together for us. He used birch for the sides and pine for the paneling.

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Here the unfinished door is being held by clamps as the wood glue and silicone dry.

Drew and I ordered paint from ECOS because it was a non toxic exterior-grade paint. Unlike many other name brand paints, it lacks many of the heavy duty curing agents that make cause headaches, allergies, nausea, fatigue, and that infamous “wet paint” chemical smell. Ugh. We chose a barn-red color because we thought it’d go with the natural look of the cedar and would match our house well. We still may end up painting the exterior of our house because linseed oil isn’t a long-lasting solution, but if we do paint we’ll probably stick to a color close to what it is already – which goes well with the barn red.

After we painted one coat on the door we let it dry overnight. It was then time to work on installation! Drew worked with Sam on this. First, they measured the rough opening of the door, and installed a 1/2″ jamb around the top and sides. From there, they squared it up using shims to make the opening a consistent width all the way up and down. Inside, they mortised the door hinges into the door. Mortising is a technique used in door-making where the places where the hinges sit are actually cut into the door and door frame so they are flush. This part is super important to get right – everything needs to be square or the hinges will not work as smoothly. From there, they took the door outside and shimmed it up to just slightly above the height of the threshold and screwed the hinges in just to mark where they would sit. From that point on, it was a slow process of sanding and planing the door to just about 1/8th of an inch smaller than the door jamb on all sides. Once that was done and the door swung completely closed without any force, they took the door off the jamb and gave it a second coat of paint.

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Doesn’t it look amazing? They did a great job.

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Even though the door looks wonderful, we unfortunately have some issues with our beautifully small door.

For one, the window is slightly too large… Don’t worry, it fits just fine, but it makes installing a door knob and lock a bit more complicated. Here’s the deal: our window is so tall and wide that it actually makes the first available place to install a handle and lock very low. Lower than a standard door, for sure. Not only that, but we have a very limited amount of vertical space to install our hardware. We calculated that there is about 4 or 5 inches of vertical space to place both a deadbolt and a door handle. That is simply too little space for two large pieces of hardware that need big holes. We decided to keep a standard locking handle, but to look for something non standard for the deadbolt.

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The final placement of the door handle and lock

We discovered that over in jolly old England they make a kind of lock called a night latch, which is a kind of deadbolt lock that automatically locks behind you and can be opened with a key from the outside. The great part about these locks is that they are standardized which means they have many of the modern security functions of an American deadbolt like being bump, jimmy, and kick resistant. However, the best part is that they only require a 1″ hole, and the bulk of the hardware mounts on the interior surface of the door! This means it will take up less space than a standard deadbolt, and be just as safe.

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We put a wooden shim in the top of the door to keep it from opening in the wind. It’s working so far.

Next we installed the door handle and lock, which took a while to arrive by mail. In the meantime, we had to use a plastic sheet to keep water from getting inside. (Ever tried to keep a door without a handle or anything to grab onto from opening in the wind? How do you keep it from opening on its own? It’s a weird problem.)

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Our protective plastic monstrosity. This surprisingly-durable plastic sheet has been with us through thick and thin since the beginning.

Because of the predicament mentioned earlier we ended up installing our deadbolt at the top of the door and the door handle in the middle. It’s still shorter than the average door handle.

Next, we needed to install weather stripping. This was a challenge. We’re trying to build this house as green as possible by sourcing as many plastic free, green materials that we can find, but as you can guess this is not easy. The majority of weather stripping we’ve found is either vinyl or PVC, both of which can leach toxic chemicals. Plus, the majority of them had Prop 65 warnings, which we also wanted to avoid. After hours of searching we finally came across rubber ones from Home Depot without a Prop 65 warning. Installing them was easy, as they just fit into the grooves (also called “kerfs”) on our doorstop. We needed to adjust our doorstop a few times for a secure fit, but in the end we had a tight weather seal all the way around the door.

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Things will slow down from here as we begin on the plumbing and electrical. We have a large learning curve ahead of us, especially when searching for green plumbing materials…